Technology is key to piano

Local teacher uses tablet applications to help students


Piano teacher Leila Viss isn't only about Bach, Beethoveen and Chopin. For her, it's also about easing her students into using the iPad application “Piano Maestro.”

Viss, a piano performance and pedagogy graduate of University of Denver, first set up a studio in her home after she graduated in 1990. Ever since, she's blossomed into a teacher who incorporates a different kind of approach in her lessons.

It all began with her mentor, Elaine Emeigh, who's a piano teacher in Littleton.

“I wanted to continue her legacy, so I started having labs during my private lessons,” Viss said.

The Centennial resident's students are now urged to stay for an extra 30 minutes after each lesson to spend time doing something on the computer — whether it be reviewing concepts, studying piano history or reinforcing lessons, she said.

“When I graduated, the Internet was just coming around. Now I have my own website, blog, and my whole idea of how I communicate has completely changed. It was a hassle over the years using technology; you were booting up the computer, putting in a CD-ROM, and then when the iPad came along, it made everything so much easier,” Viss said.

Her book, “The iPad Piano Studios, Keys to Unlocking the Power of Apps,” came out in 2013 and reflects her appetite for using apps to practice note names, inspire creativity and compose with her students. Viss considers herself to be a writer and also contributes to the Clavier Companion, a nationally known premiere piano magazine.

The owners of private applications company, JoyTunes, contacted Viss after reading her blog a year ago.

With more than 4 million users, the company's apps are a hit, Viss said.

“Joytunes is changing the face of music education by transforming the way people learn music, enabling anyone to play a musical instrument,” JoyTunes head of brand Nadia Hitman said. “By combining music methodologies with the latest in gaming features and instant feedback, the learning process is significantly shortened for millions of children, adults and teachers already using the apps.”

Hitman said all of their applications recently became free for teachers and their students, and many of the apps are still available for purchase to anyone.

“Speaking on their (JoyTunes') behalf, and mobile technology — Piano Maestro is unbelievably amazing,” Viss said. “You set it up on the piano (doesn't have to be digital) and choose from like 2,000 songs in the library. You press play and the student follows along with the piano. After that, you get evaluated and receive immediate feedback. You can get up to three gold stars.

"I use it in my studio every day and I can give students assignments when they're at home. It's continually morphing into something teachers can't resist. When the student learns a piece, they have to practice it all week, and if they forgot how it sounds, they can play along with a backing track. It's the best reinforcement. They have their very own roaming profile with a picture of them and everything. It's very revolutionary and changing the way we're teaching piano.”

With piano sales on the decline, according to the National Association of Music Merchants, technology like this will save music, she said.

Viss said she's not hurting for piano students because people are hungry to learn. With 40 students, many of whom are adults who stop in every week, it's great to see what's going on in the music world, she said.

“A lot of my students are very tech-savvy — tech natives as I like to call them. I have top performers on Piano Maestro who are completely addicted to it,” she said.

Viss said one of her favorite parts of teaching piano is adjusting to whoever is sitting on the bench.

“You have to be flexible,” she said. “If you set up a positive, fun, stable relationship with your student, you learn from each other. It gives me a lot of tools in my back pocket, and no matter how much experience you have or how many degrees you have, you're continually learning and growing as an instructor and performer.”

Littleton, Centennial, Colorado, Taryn Walker, Leila Viss


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